WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Tuesday he will announce a candidate next week to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.
Trump had said earlier this month he would choose a nominee within two weeks of his inauguration.
"We will pick a truly great Supreme Court justice," Trump told reporters who asked about the vacancy as the president signed paperwork to advance construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines. Both projects had been blocked under former President Barack Obama.
"Sometime next week," Trump said about his timeline for naming someone to fill the nearly yearlong vacancy created by the February 2016 death of conservative justice Antonin Scalia. "Probably making my decision this week, we'll be announcing next week."
"We have outstanding candidates," he said. Trump was summoning top senators to the White House later Tuesday to discuss the nomination.
During the campaign, Trump released a list of 20 names of people he said he would consider for a lifetime appointment to the nation's highest court. Before he was sworn in to office, he asserted that potential court appointments were among the reasons he defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in the election.
"I think the people of this country did not want to see what was happening with the Supreme Court, so I think it was a very, very big decision as to why I was elected," Trump said at a Jan. 11 news conference at New York's Trump Tower.
After Scalia's death, Obama nominated federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland to replace the late jurist. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., refused to schedule a confirmation hearing. Garland returned to his own courtroom last week.
Besides taking steps to advance construction of the oil pipelines, subject to renegotiation of the agreements, Trump also signed a notice Tuesday requiring the materials for the pipelines be constructed in the United States, though it was unclear how he planned to enforce the measure.
"From now we are going to start making pipelines in the United States," he said.
Trump has sought to focus his first full week in office on jobs and the economy. Republicans, as well as some unions, have cited the pipeline projects as prime opportunities for job growth.
Obama stopped the proposed Keystone XL pipeline in late 2015, declaring it would have undercut U.S. efforts to clinch a global climate change deal that was a centerpiece of his environmental legacy. The pipeline would run from Canada to Nebraska where it would connect to existing lines running to U.S. refineries on the Gulf Coast. The U.S. government needs to approve the pipeline because it would cross the nation's northern border.
Separately, late last year, the Army Corps of Engineers declined to allow construction of the Dakota Access pipeline under Lake Oahe, saying alternative routes needed to be considered. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe and its supporters say the project threatens drinking water and Native American sites, though Energy Transfer Partners, the company that wants to build the pipeline, disputes that and says the pipeline will be safe.
The pipeline is to carry North Dakota oil through South Dakota and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois.
Even as Trump moves to implement his agenda, he is still making false claims.
During a reception with lawmakers at the White House Monday evening, Trump claimed the reason he'd lost the popular vote to Democratic rival Clinton was that 3 million to 5 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally had voted. That's according to a Democratic aide familiar with the exchange who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting.
There is no evidence to support Trump's claim. He made a similar statement on Twitter in late November that he had won the Electoral College in a "landslide" and "won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally." Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 2.9 million votes but lost the electoral contest.
Trump's assertion appears to be part of a continuing pattern for him and his new administration in which falsehoods overshadow his outreach efforts.
On Tuesday, Trump summoned the heads of the big three American automakers, General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler, for a breakfast meeting. He pledged to scrap regulations and reduce taxes on corporations that keep jobs in the U.S., though he did not specify his plans for either.
His administration, he said, will "go down as one of the most friendly countries" for business.
Trump's actions signal a reset after a tumultuous weekend dominated by his and his spokesman's false statements about inauguration crowds and their vigorous complaints about media coverage of the celebrations. While Trump's advisers have long accepted his tendency to become fixated on seemingly insignificant issues, some privately concede that his focus on inauguration crowds was unhelpful on the opening weekend of his presidency.
In addition to his executive action on TPP, Trump signed memorandums freezing most federal government hiring — though he noted an exception for the military — and reinstating a ban on providing federal money to international groups that perform abortions or provide information on the option. The regulation, known as the "Mexico City Policy," has been a political volleyball, instituted by Republican administrations and rescinded by Democratic ones since 1984.
The actions were among the long list of steps candidate Trump pledged to take on his opening day as president. But other "Day One" promises were going unfulfilled, including plans to propose a constitutional amendment imposing term limits on members of Congress and terminating Obama's executive actions deferring deportations for some people living in the U.S. illegally.